Movies aimed at smaller, but appreciative audiences

 

By Leonard Heldreth
The films this month were not designed to be blockbusters but were aimed at a limited but generally appreciative audience.

DAMSEL

In an opening scene that hints at Samuel Beckett’s plays, Damsel telegraphs its plans to take varying degrees of liberty with the Western genre. Two men sit on a bench beside a barely discernable road that stretches in both directions across Utah’s desolate, red rock Goblin Valley, a region that hints at John Ford’s iconic Monument Valley. One of the two (Robert Forster), a grizzled older man wearing clerical garb, is waiting for a stagecoach to take him east; he’s fed up with trying to convert Indians to Christianity (too many Christians anyway, he says) and disgusted with the savagery, brutality, and general indifference he’s encountered in the West. He hopes to start fresh again in the East. The other (David Zellner, the film’s co-director) is waiting for a stage to take him west, where he hopes to make a fresh start in the land of opportunity. The two debate their conflicting views of the West until one, in a rage of depression, strips off his clerical black, throws it at the other, and runs off nearly naked into the desert. The tongue-in-cheek quality of this film is exemplified by the color of the buttes surrounding the men perfectly matching the pink of the fleeing man’s long underwear as he quickly disappears into the distance…

FIRST REFORMED

Paul Schrader is widely regarded as one of the more interesting and personal but uneven talents working in American film. His script credits include Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead, and he has directed over 20 films. At age 24, before starting to direct, he published a highly regarded work of film criticism: Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. His most recent film, First Reformed, draws extensively from Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, as well as from Bergman’s Winter Light. Nor surprisingly, it takes up many of the themes of Shrader’s earlier films–man’s relationship to God, guilt and redemption, man’s need to act, and personal questions of despair and self-loathing…

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